Edited by Maribel Steel
Editor’s note: As families and students old and young prepare to go back to school, VisionAware peer advisors share their insights on what they have learned when enrolled in the “school of life” as blind or visually impaired life-students.
Vision Loss Teaches Faith and Humor
by Amy Bovaird
As I go through the “School of Life,” I’ve learned to fall back on two principal strengths—which have never failed me. The first is my faith. Whatever situation I find myself in, I know that God has gone ahead of me and He is also there beside me, guiding me through the maze of challenges I face. He often has to tap that white-board in the sky and underline His take-away points before I understand them. But He’s patient and repeats Himself often.
When Humor Helps
The second principal strength I rely on is my sense of humor, which carries me through the things that happen to me as a result of my poor sight—and poor response!
For example, after hours of climbing Mt. Fuji through the night, I fell between two boulders. I wasn’t hurt but the fall shocked me. Sheesh! I thought You would protect me from any falls, I complained silently to God. Don’t let that happen again.
I thought about it for a minute and decided to soften my plea. “I mean, please God. Don’t let me fall. Thank you in advance.”
For the next half an hour, I found myself stuck in a human traffic jam inching my way up the mountain. The crowd was like ants on a stick. There was no way I would ever have any space to fall. When I thought about it, I realized God had answered my prayer immediately and left me still laughing twenty-five years later.
Easing the Turmoil of Life
With Retinitis Pigmentosa, my eyes often play tricks on me and it’s natural to face emotional turmoil. But God prevents me from staying in the midst of that churning. He usually sends me something to laugh about to break the tension. And for that, I’m grateful!
Vision Loss Teaches the Teacher
by Mary Hiland
As a person who has lived with blindness for over 50 years, I’ve learned that the biggest obstacle for me is the good intentions of my sighted friends. Unknowingly, they often make life a little more difficult, and I find myself teaching lessons constantly.
Today, my friend opened the car door for me, and I walked right into the corner of the window. I have told her many times that it’s so much better if I’m allowed to find the handle of the door myself. Maybe today she finally got the message.
This is true not just for car doors, but also for doors of buildings. My dog guide is excellent at pointing her pretty nose right at the handle. This way, I know exactly where the door is and how much room we have to get through it.
So often, when a person standing near the door wants to help, he winds up standing in the doorway, preventing the dog from feeling that there is enough clearance for us both. When I’m directed to a chair or a bench, my helpful friend wants to tell me to rotate to a position so that my back side is facing the chair. It makes much more sense to me to find the chair with my hand or the fronts of my knees.
I am constantly reminding my friends to use words with information, not direction. For instance, tell me the bench is to my left, and let me approach it the way I am comfortable doing so. Don’t tell me to turn around and back up.
When I’m dining out with friends, I must remind them not to move my glass when the food comes. Let me do that, so I know where the glass is now located. Saying it’s right over here is no help at all. Handing me my silverware is also something I find offensive. Just tell me that it’s to the right of my plate and let me find it myself. I don’t handle their silverware, so I expect them not to handle mine.
Teaching and Learning Together
The trick to educating well-meaning friends is to do just that. Educate.
Getting upset or sarcastic does nothing for your relationship. But a calm explanation of what works best for me is usually taken much better than a reprimand. It is up to me to make being with a blind person not a challenge, but a pleasure.
It takes thoughtful planning to prevent a disaster. Thinking through the situation will make it easier for everybody involved.
Vision Loss Teaches Thankfulness
Studying along in the “School of Life,” I can honestly say I’ve been “schooled” on a whole variety of subjects, past and present. This schooling seems never ending.
As a lover of academics, having returned to college as a “non-traditional” student, I can admit to embracing new lessons even as they present themselves today.
Learning to be Thankful
It dawned on me recently that one of the more important subjects I have learned in this great classroom of life is that I have learned to be thankful. Compiling a list of all the things I am thankful for, of which there are many, I’m sharing some of those “lessons of thankfulness” that are most important to me.
Lessons of Thankfulness
- Thankful for Opportunities.In observing how resilient I’ve been over the years in the face of adversity, I’ve come to appreciate and be thankful for all the many opportunities I’ve managed to seize. It’s easy to expect and want for more out of life but I’ve had to work and strive for my goals, allowing for me to realize my dreams. I probably wouldn’t be so thankful had everything been handed over to me.
- Thankful for People. Some of the opportunities I’ve come across in this oftentimes confusing world, would never have been presented before me were it not for the help of certain caseworkers and case managers. I am most thankful for these people who have patiently guided me along my travels down the road in this school of life. While they’ve assisted me, they’ve also let go allowing me to thrive and continue with my journey independently.
- Thankful for Benefits and Perks. One day my psychology instructor had asked me in front of the class what it was that I expected out of the day each day I got up. My response was simply, “I’m very thankful to be above ground!” The class erupted in laughter and I followed that with, “Everything else is a bonus.” (this last one is what I believe to be a defining key in enjoying my life!)
Indeed, I am thankful to be alive. With this perspective, I’m happy for all the added benefits and perks, large and small that come along. From the friendly hello’s of complete strangers to the giggle of my daughter as we read together, sharing in her discoveries of a silly story, I’m thankful. This is a lesson I’ve learned to carry with me each and every day.
Lessons Learned in the School of Life: Part One
Tips for Older Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Do you have an experience you would like to share from the school of life as a blind or visually-impaired person? We’d love to hear it in the comments section.